Walking into John & Olivia’s Bed & Breakfast is like walking, disorientingly, into a Depression-era home in rural Virginia — except it isn’t.
Specifically crafted to resemble the home of the Waltons family from the television show, “The Waltons,” the inn was built just last year to serve as a place for fans of the show to stay as they explore the community that served as inspiration for their beloved show.
“The Waltons” was created by Earl Hamner Jr. and was loosely based on his childhood in the Schuyler community of Nelson County. The show aired from 1972 to 1981, but the storyline also included six made-for-television movies and the 1963 movie “Spencer’s Mountain.”
John & Olivia’s Bed & Breakfast and the neighboring The Waltons Hamner House are owned by Carole Johnson, who describes herself as somewhat of a “The Waltons” groupie. John & Olivia’s Bed & Breakfast is named for the parents of the Walton family in the television show.
“It just transcends time,” she said of the show. “...So many people say they’re like, ‘Oh, gosh, I’ve had a terrible day at work, and I go home, and I just turn on “The Waltons.”’ And there’s just something about that show that relaxes people and takes them back to a simpler time.”
The odyssey that led Carole, a Californian, to the tiny Schuyler community began about eight years ago, when she attended her first “The Waltons” television show event in Los Angeles. She met a woman there who knew about The Waltons Museum and Carole decided she had to pay it a visit in May 2013.
But she hadn’t done her homework.
“So I thought, oh, we’re gonna come to the museum and go to lunch and like, go shopping. Yeah, wouldn’t that be great? We got here and there was nothing,” Carole recalled with a chuckle.
Later that year, Carole learned of a film crew doing a documentary on Hamner and decided to help fund the project. That’s how she met the creator of her favorite show before his death in 2016. Before long, she found herself traveling the country following the actors as they performed.
“I kind of became a groupie,” she said.
In 2017, the show celebrated its 45th reunion with a gathering of 15 cast members and thousands of fans in Schuyler. A reporter from the Nelson County Times interviewed Carole at the event and held on to her number. Two months later, the publication contacted her again for comment when the Hamner house was placed on the market.
When the reporter asked her, as a fan, if she had any comment on the house being put up for sale, she replied, “Yes, I’m going to buy it.”
By October 2017, she was in escrow on the Hamner house, with plans to open an inn, since reunions meant cast members had to stay in Charlottesville or Lynchburg. The plan quickly morphed into what stands today — the recreated set of “The Waltons” standing alongside Hamner’s childhood home.
“I’ll tell you what, this is such a special place,” Carole said. “We get 80th birthdays, we get 50th anniversaries, and we get people who are dying and this is on their bucket list to come here.”
Carole said her fascination with the show is just like anyone else’s: “It’s either the family that you had or the family you wanted to have.”
Carole wants her guests to feel as though they have joined the fictional Waltons world and have been invited to sit down at John and Olivia’s table to share a meal or gathered around the radio in the living room to listen to the evening programming.
That began with a carefully crafted floor plan.
Carole hired contractor Carlton Ballowe and asked him to craft a floor plan from a rough sketch of the house sold at the nearby gift shop. His wife, a Waltons fan, helped by pointing out details of the home she noticed in episodes as she watched.
“Of course, the house that we all know and love is actually a facade,” she remarked. “One day I had somebody stand at the door, and I had a tape measure. And I pretended as if I was walking through this house across to the other side of the kitchen, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at how big that is.’ But that’s how we came up with dimensions.”
One room is different though — the inn features a modern kitchen, hidden from the rest of the house.
The footers were poured by early February 2019, and the inn opened Oct. 24, 2019 with cast members as its first guests.
Judy Norton Taylor, who played Mary Ellen Walton; and Kami Colter, who played Elizabeth Walton, were the first ones to visit the bed-and-breakfast. They told her the house looked so familiar but “when they started running up the stairs, their muscle memory actually said, ‘Oh, wait, this isn’t right.’ So even though the number of stairs is the same, somehow the pitch or something isn’t the same as on the set,” Carole said.
Eric Scott, who played Benjamin Walton, told Carole he was happy to have a ceiling above his head. The set didn’t have one, so when the Walton family sat around the table, taking and retaking shots, dust fell down onto the food they ate.
In 2012, Carole began collecting things that look like they belonged on the set of the Waltons. It began with noticing Olivia’s sewing machine in an episode and wondering if she could find the same one.
“And from there it just became like a treasure hunt,” she said. “So every time I would watch ‘The Waltons,’ I would be looking for different things.”
True fans know just where the ironing board sits and what episode the large antique washing machine entered the house. They know the afghan on the sofa and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt portrait hanging in the wall.
Carole estimates she had about 80% of the items she needed to furnish the house just like the set before this plan ever was hatched, and the devoted fans helped her accomplish the rest.
Two things she didn’t have were the large table to fit the Walton family and the old water heater that sat off the kitchen. The water heater proved so difficult to find that Carole ended up putting out a call to Waltons fans groups and someone came across it in Maine.
The inn features five bedrooms and five bathrooms. There is the grandparents’ room, the parents’ room, the writer’s room (meaning John Boy’s), the boys’ room and the girls’ room.
The grandparents’ room, the one ground-floor bedroom, features a stained-glass window — recreated from an episode where grandma and grandpa were at odds over tearing down a building. In the end, a stained- glass window from that building was put in their bedroom.
In an upstairs bedroom hangs a replica of a painting the Walton children created in an episodes.
“‘The Waltons’ was actually set up to fail,” Carole said. “CBS was getting a lot of flack that nothing good was on. And so CBS thought, great, we’ll put this on, nobody will like it. We’ll say we’ve tried. And that’ll be it. So when that episode was done, the art department didn’t keep the picture. The original is gone so I had it recreated.”
Televisions are in the rooms but artfully covered so as not to ruin the Depression-era aesthetic.
In the girls’ room is a doll that looks just like the one Elizabeth had and the quilt is made to look like the one featured in the episode, “The Quilting.”
Carole has copies of all “The Waltons” episodes that guests can watch during their stay — all nine seasons and the six made-for-TV movies.
This whole endeavor started for Carole with being unable to fathom the The Waltons Hamner house becoming a private residence or, worse, succumbing to the wrecking ball.
The Hamner house was built in 1915. Earl Hamner Jr., or as Carole calls him, the real John Boy, moved into the home in 1929 at age 6. At that time, he was an only child, and his father worked as a machinist at a soapstone company.
The house remained in the Hamner family until 2003. James Hamner was the last of the siblings to live there, and when he moved to Charlottesville for better health care, the house was sold.
At that time, Carole said, the house was almost falling down. It went up for auction at the courthouse. Two people bid on the property — one wanted to tear the house down, and the other, Pam Rutherford, ended up tripling her bid to keep that from happening and spending thousands more to restore it. Because of all energy and resources Rutherford put into the home, Carole said the only major repair she has had to make was fixing a ruptured sewer line. As Rutherford aged, her Schuyler asset was sold to Carole.
The comment she hears the most from those who tour the Hamner house is how difficult it is to fathom raising eight children in the small home. She noted it was even smaller when Hamner was growing up, as Rutherford expanded the kitchen onto what once was a screened in porch.
“When you see the little tiny area where again, eight kids, two parents and any grandparents sat and ate dinner and, you know, this house is just super small,” Carole said.
“Someone said to me the other day that Hollywood has made it look like they had this big giant mansion practically in the middle of the Depression, and I mean this is a beautiful house. I love this house. There’s just the parents room and upstairs there’s all the girls slept in one room all the boys slept in one room. Because Earl was six years older, he had gone off to college by the time the youngest son went upstairs to stay in the boys room. But yeah, I just have a super loving feeling about this house.”
Earl Hamner Sr. died in the kitchen in 1969. Hamner’s mother, Doris, died in 1990 and Earl Jr. died in 2016.
“I really think Earl looks down at us and sees all the laughter and happiness that’s happening here,” she said. “... You can just feel a heartwarming feeling in the house.”
Carole admits even after the inn was built she still would come to sleep in the Hamner house. The original wood floors creak as you walk across them, prompting Carole to joke that there is no way to sneak around in the Hamner house.
“It’s a humbling experience, for sure,” Carole said. “I mean, people thank me every day for doing what I’m doing, and keeping it alive.”
Another project on Carole’s agenda is the pond referred to as Drusilla’s pond, though the character it was named for never appeared in the episodes. The pond sits at the back edge of her property. She also is awaiting permits to construct a barn.
The pond is featured in a number of episodes from “The Best Christmas,” where Miss Fanny and her niece drove into the pond, to the place where Mary Ellen got her first kiss.
“If you would have come to me like 10 years ago and said, ‘Oh, Carole, you’re really gonna go to Waltons Mountain and do this,’ I wouldn’t believe you,” she said with a chuckle. “... But you know, I love it here. If you read any of Earl’s books, you can just see what he’s talking about.
“People either get it or you don’t get it. There are real diehard fans out here who want to see every little thing that there is to see.”
PHOTOS: John & Olivia’s B&B puts guests into ‘The Waltons’ set
Walking into John & Olivia’s Bed & Breakfast is like walking, disorientingly, into a depression era home in rural Virginia — except it isn’t.